I once worked with a client who told me, "There seem to be two phases of weight loss: The phase where you lose the weight and then the phase where you gain it back. Guess which phase I'm in?"
Unfortunately, she's not alone. Most of us have lost weight at one time or another (some of us, many times), but the biggest struggle is keeping it off. There are no exact numbers on how many people regain weight, but some estimates suggest that it's anywhere from 80 percent to a whopping 95 percent.
There are things working against us when it comes to maintaining weight loss, some of which we can't control (such as our DNA) and others we can (such as how much time we spend sitting around). Either way, knowing what's in store for you after you lose the weight can help you keep it off for good.
Beyond Weight Loss
We often focus so much energy on losing weight, we're completely unprepared for what happens when we actually lose it. We often have the belief that, once we lose the weight, we're home free. We can finally get back to "normal" life, a life that doesn't involve monitoring every bite, watching portion sizes, following that diet or going to the gym every day. The truth is, you have to do at least the same amount of work to maintain your weight loss as you did to lose it in the first place, perhaps even more. Knowing that, and understanding the factors that can contribute to weight regain, can help you stop the cycle for good.
Why You Regain the Weight
1. Unrealistic Diets and Exercise Programs
One major reason we regain weight is because, in an effort to lose weight fast, we often follow unrealistic diets that are simply not sustainable for the long term. It may be a fad diet (such as the Master Cleanse), a very low calorie diet or a commercial diet that restricts so many food groups, you end up binging on the very foods you're not allowed to eat. If you add in an unrealistic exercise program, say going from very little exercise to seven days at the gym, it's easy to see why weight regain is so common.
While you might lose weight initially, these extreme diets and exercise programs require such drastic changes that you can only follow them for a short period of time. By restricting what you eat and working out like crazy, you might lose weight but you never learn how to change your habits for good. Losing weight too quickly can also have some unpleasant side effects such as:
- Physical problems - Losing a lot of weight very quickly can cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, constipation, gallstones and, for some, loose skin that may require surgery.
- Loss of muscle - When you lose weight quickly, especially if you're dieting without exercise, you not only lose fat, you lose muscle as well. That not only slows your metabolism (which contributes to even more weight gain), you may end up with more body fat after weight regain, leaving you worse off than you were before.
- Misery - Many diets are so restrictive, you cut out entire food groups, leaving you feeling hungry and deprived. Jumping into extreme exercise without slowly building strength and stamina leaves you sore, exhausted and burned out.
Taking It Slow
If you want long-term weight loss, you need long-term change..a lifestyle change. Changing lifelong habits takes time and requires learning a variety of new skills and habits, something that doesn't happen overnight. You have to learn how to exercise: What you enjoy, how much you can handle, how to fit it into your schedule and how to stay motivated on a daily basis. You also have to learn how to eat - How to monitor your portions, how to avoid emotional eating and how many calories you need.
However, the most important thing you have to learn is how to lose weight slowly. Not just the physical components of eating and exercising, but the psychological aspects as well. Many of us want to see instant changes on the scale but, slow weight loss means weeks or months before seeing significant changes. Learning to lose weight slowly means:
- Forgetting about weight loss - It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to lose weight is to forget about losing weight. Instead of asking, "How much weight did I lose this week?" it's about asking, "How much exercise did I get this week? Was I careful with my diet most of the time?" If you're able to do that, the weight loss will happen.
- Learning to Enjoy Healthy Eating and Exercise - To many of us, the words 'healthy eating' and 'exercise' do not inspire any sort of enjoyment. However, as you practice both of these skills, you start to feel good, which goes a long way towards motivating you to keep going. Remember the benefits of what you're doing and that weight loss is only one of them.